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Econ 919 — River Terrace

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River Terrace in Soldotna currently includes seasonal RV residents and year-round trailer residents.
Riley Board
River Terrace in Soldotna currently includes seasonal RV residents and year-round trailer residents.

Residents of a Soldotna trailer park are worried about where to go next, after receiving an eviction notice in July. The property is the possible future site of a riverfront redevelopment project spearheaded by the city.

The River Terrace RV and Trailer Park is just upstream of the Kenai River Bridge in Soldotna. To the right, there are temporary and seasonal RVs parked along the banks of the river. To the left, about 40 trailer homes house a low-income community, many of them seniors.

On July 27, trailer park residents got notice to vacate by May 3, 2024. The notice says the closure is related to “planned changes in the future use of the land.”

Daniel Lynch has lived in the trailer park since 1995.

“There’s no need for these people to become homeless, and that’s what’s gonna happen to the majority of them,” Lynch said.

He said there are few options for mobile home placement, much less for 40 all at once. He suspects many of his neighbors will end up living in their cars.

“We’ve checked trailer parks out from Sterling toward the end of Nikiski and anything south,” Lynch said. “There’s really nothing available. Maybe one or two spots, potentially.”

The trailer park residents don’t just have to be gone by May — they have to move their entire mobile home, a process that may involve deconstructing any add-ons like decks, disconnecting from utilities, then finding a towing company to move the home to a different site. Most residents rent the land but own the physical home. Lynch estimates moving costs at about $5,000.

“Many people have put in thousands of dollars in improvements, from rubber roofs to decks to plumbing, new windows, etcetera etcetera. And then to find this out at the end of July, and, ‘Oh, by the way, you have two months before the snow flies, and you have to be out by May.’ People were beside themselves,” he said.

This week, Lynch and many of his neighbors gathered to talk through their options. They’re looking at tenant legal resources, learning from a similar situation happening in Chugiak, and hoping for more time.

Lynch suspects the eviction is related to the city of Soldotna’s riverfront redevelopment project, a plan to convert riverfront property into a walking path and market area. That project is working with money from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, and an Oregon-based consultant.

The latest plans do include a map encompassing the River Terrace property, and even suggest constructing mixed-use buildings and housing diversity, including affordable housing. Project manager Jason Graf with the consulting company presented the idea to the city council last week.

“There’s always a need for more housing in communities. Where you can partner or work with affordable housing developers, you as a public entity have access to grants and funding that can build affordable housing in the community,” he told the council. “There are developers out there who do that work, there are federal grants that you can acquire.”

But Soldotna City Manager Janette Bower said that work is far in the future and the city has made no moves to purchase River Terrace at the moment. She said the city has talked about purchasing it in the long term, but not until after an appraisal, which could reveal too big of a price tag for the municipality.

She said she was also surprised to find out trailer park residents were being evicted.

Jim Butler, an attorney for the property’s owners Gary and Judith Hinkle, said nobody has expressed serious interest in buying the property.

Butler confirmed the owners are not in negotiations with the city, and said the reason residents are being evicted is to, “convert the balance of the property’s use to seasonal or temporary use by customers.”

Daniel Lynch, the River Terrace resident, hopes the city will help him and his displaced neighbors.

“There is no need in today’s society for us to become Anchorage, where we just have homeless people because of a situation like this,” he said.

City Manager Bower said the city doesn’t have the money to help the residents relocate, but she is worried about them and will refer them to services if she can. She wishes they had more time to prepare to move.

Riley Board is a Report For America participant and senior reporter at KDLL covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula.
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